SQ discusses Coralie Fargeat’s stunning and shocking debut ‘Revenge’

During May and June, Bird’s Eye View have been travelling the UK screening Coralie Fargeat’s debut rape-revenge thriller ‘Revenge’ as part of their Reclaim the Frame project. As part of their screen influencers project, Screen Queens’ Chloe, Millicent and Kelsie attending respective screenings at Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle and HOME, Manchester. The original intention for our coverage of Revenge was a humble review. But after finally delving into the film, there was far too much to say and unpack to fit into a generic ‘is it good or is it bad’ article. So instead, we took to messenger and had a lengthy spoiler-filled discussion about symbolism, the female gaze, the rape-revenge genre and female empowerment, inspired by the post-screening discussions Bird’s Eye View held at each cinema.

 

Chloe Leeson: So, what were your initial reactions to the film?

Millicent Thomas: I absolutely love it, when it ended I turned to my friend next to me and we both just sighed like ‘wow’.

Kelsie Dickinson: It was not what I thought it was going to be but exactly what I wanted it to be.

C: I really enjoyed it there was just so much to unpack but I agree, it wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be, I didn’t expect it to be so stylised.

M: The stylistic elements were fantastic, the ant really stood out to me.

K: The gore was so fun and colourful, very enjoyable to watch! I know what you mean Chloe, the whole aesthetic completely avoided the cliché gritty/dark/brown rape revenge film or even horror film style.

M: Her use of insects and the apple were also super interesting. Yes! The saturated colours were amazing.

K: Yeah the foreshadowing of the Ant on the apple was so cool! There’s so much foreshadowing in the first 20/30 minutes.

C: I seen the Ant and the apple like this untainted sweet object that just slowly decayed when it came into contact with the insect aka A MAN

K: Yes! Also the ant because it’s the ant bites that keep her alive once she’s impaled on the branch. The film tries hard to stick to realism

M: I do wonder how they anticipated the bugs movements in filming. But wait, what?!?! Ant bites keep how alive….how?

K: So, Fire Ant bites are poisonous to humans, but there are records of the bites keeping people alive in times of extreme physical injury!

M: That’s amazing

C: So Millicent, was it what you expected it to be?

M: Honestly, yeah! I expected a gory intense arty film from everything I’d heard and read, and I want to clarify that the film being what I expected definitely wasn’t a bad thing, it was perfect.

C: Oh yes I totally agree! It’s very nice to be surprised and taken aback by a film when you expected something potentially a little different from it, especially in a positive light.

M: The sheer amount of symbolism was unexpected though so that was really interesting to think about when it was over.

K: I know right, there’s so much symbolism, I totally felt like it completely captured the female gaze too!

 

C: What was everyone’s favourite aspects and moments from the film?

K: I LOVED the trip scene it actually fucked me up

C: That scene was so Mad Max Fury Road to me

M: I think my favourite moment was probably the entire sequence from her escape from the branch to her first kill. The build up was so perfectly timed, I wanted to clap when she stabbed him in the eye.

K: I hated the raped scene but appreciated the way it was shot, because it was a female director so of course it wasn’t extremely graphic, but it still made me feel so uncomfortable.

C: I absolutely adored the scene when she is first running away from the house, the soundscape and tension was unbelievable, all the way to her getting herself off the branch. The opening scene was also glorious, that shot of them in the helicopter and the reflection in his sunglasses and her with the lollipop was ridiculously cool.

M: In the Q&A after my screening, Jo Duncombe said there was exactly 14 minutes of dialogue in the whole film and a lot of it was the exchange between the two of them before the rape. That dialogue I think was a very mundane and realistic approach in the sense that every women, I think, has dealt with men feeling entitled to us. Like we owe something to men, so I found that really interesting.

K: The dialogue was very specific/purposeful. The burning of that cute I ❤ LA T-shirt was poetic.

C: Yes Kelsie I thought that too! It was like the death of her former self.

M: Yes! The whole wanting to go to LA and ‘be seen and noticed’ was interesting because she was very seen and very noticed, just not in the way she wanted to be, so when she emerged from that cave there is literally no one around to see her but she is more empowered than ever before.

K: At no point did it objectify or portray her as guilty either (in my opinion), which is very refreshing

C: I can’t really think of a specific least favourite moment but I think sometimes I felt like I wanted her to hurry up, like it wasn’t going kill to kill fast enough for me, but really that’s just my issues with loving violent gory films. I think Revenge definitely sets Fargeat up with a style and symbolism that not a lot of directors in general possess right from a debut.

K: I wanted them to suffer straight away. I didn’t want to wait! But it just really played into the game of hunter and prey. She ended up hunting them, blissfully full circle.

M: Another thing they mentioned was that she is a French director but no one would finance a horror debut from a woman apparently, so she sought finance in America, that’s why the language dips in and out. One problem I did have with the hunting, and I can’t decide if it actually annoyed me or not, is that we spend a lot of time with the men, like the one who actually raped her, and his interactions with Richard felt long and unnecessary. When he was listening to music in the care and his nose broke I nearly felt sorry for him.

K: Perhaps more of a commentary on how these men are people too? How rapists aren’t big and scary, they’re just normal men.

C: Yes! I noticed that, you were sort of coerced into feeling sorry for the rapist, which is exactly what they do in the I Spit on Your Grave remake.

M: Interesting way of looking at it Kelsie, like they could literally just be your boyfriend’s colleague.

 

C: So, do you think Revenge is an empowering film?

K: Totally empowering, she is a typical American LA Lovin’ white girl and she ruins 3 men in 24 hours. It really screams about the power of women and how we are constantly undermined. It was very much about her and her actions, not about the men suffering, which is important when tackling rape revenge stories because usually it’s about the suffering of the men/rapists.

M: Yes! The film literally feels like proof of my theory that women are the most powerful things on earth. I liked that we saw a lot of her dealing with her injury or being stealthy/preparing rather than just running and cutting them up.

C: I find any film with a woman with a weapon empowering because I think for so long that’s the only kind of empowerment I was exposed to? Which is an entire conversation in itself. But for me what was super empowering was the Reclaim the Frame screening itself. I’ve never actually sat in a room with that many women talking about film exclusively before. I’ve never in my life heard a woman say ‘gender binary’ ‘female gaze’ etc. in real life before. We had a rape survivor on the discussion panel at our screening and she said the film felt really empowering for her because the rape itself was unspectacular, as hers was. The film didn’t glorify it or make it cinematic, it just happened and that was it.

M: Yeah I find most rape scenes in films an unbelievably long, almost using for shock value and exploiting what happens to a lot of women and men.

K: Honestly, female directors don’t show rape as an extreme, it’s just not something I’ve seen them do.

M: I think Mia Bays said the rape scene in I Spit on Your Grave was around 30 minutes.

C: It is horribly long and it is awful, full on face shot of her getting anally raped. I think American Mary is the only other rape revenge fil I know of that’s directed by a woman.

K: Along with developing a female gaze, Revenge is definitely a film I will not forget. It really gives me hope, rape revenge films can be really disgusting so to watch something and feel fucking badass after it is incredible.

M: I don’t know if it’s wrong but Revenge left me with a feeling almost of exhilaration, like I felt energetic when it was over. With them speaking French and English and not really knowing the location it felt like it could happen anywhere, which it literally could, so that’s something to take from it.

 

C: So Kelsie, you’ve mentioned the female gaze. How did we all find the presentation of the female gaze and the male gaze… and how do you think it changed?

M: The Male gaze was unbelievably prominent in the first act, she was a sex object, lots of tiny skirts and a Lolita-esque lollipop. Then in the second half, the camera still loved her body but it loved her scars and her strength, not her skin and curves.

K: I really feel early on in the film, our introduction to Jen, the dance scene etc., even though it sexualised her, she was put in a position of power and control most of the time, she wasn’t objectified by us or the director, only by the male characters which it showed via extreme close ups that make you so uncomfortable because it feels real.

M: Fargeat definitely used the male gaze purposefully to tell a story.

K: Well, up until the rape scene and then it dips. But she’s like their prey.

M: Yes! The men’s teeth and mouth is so disgusting how they drool over her with heightened sound.

K: It established a female gae but abuses the male gaze to empower Jen whilst also basically destroying who she was/who we first saw her as. It’s so smart! I got Mad Max vibes throughout. It’s definitely a nice follow up to Raw from last year in terms of female indie horror.

C: The thing I noticed that was super cool was when the men first see her, she’s stood behind the pink glass window, the men seeing her through rose tinted glasses, their idea of perfection and femininity, then when she comes back to the house hunting the men, she’s stood behind the blue glass window. Men and women are typically perceived as blue and pink (which is obviously gendered and rubbish but you know), but this was like a total reversal, when she came back she had changed and was perceived differently, with a different energy.

M: She was the hunter and he was the prey. He (Richard) stood vulnerable and naked, but she now had ammo and determination. TOTAL REVERSAL.

K: I loved the earrings too! Representing her femininity. Her rapist shooting one off was amazing, symbolising what he takes from her!

C: A girl in our screening said the earrings were symbolic. She said that it was Jen still retaining her previous self after a traumatic act. That she was still going to be cute and feminine when society would tell her she’s dirty and should no longer act that way.

M: And she never takes the second one off, keeping something of her old self but still growing

 

C: So I’m not sure how much experience you guys have with the rape revenge genre…but how does and doesn’t Revenge confine itself to the genres status quo?

K: The execution of the rape scene is really what makes it different from the likes of I Spit on Your Grave and I’d say it’s the most empowering revenge film I’ve seen. Like you said earlier Chloe, the lack of focus on the act of rape is quite different, the film doesn’t have to make you squirm for you to empathise with Jen, or root for her. It takes itself serious enough to reflect real life and the experience of women, but embraces how fun gore can be without overshadowing or stealing focus from Jen or her story.

C: Okay so I have seen quite a few films from this genre: ISOYG original and remake, The Last House on the Left original and remake, American Mary, Even Lambs Have Teeth, Baise-Moi. I would completely agree with Kelsie, all of these films, apart from American Mary which we’ve already established as women-directed, have long rape scenes. They try to tantalise and sensationalise it in a lot of cases. Its grim and dirty and the absolute extreme whereas this is so mundane and genuinely tragic that its actually potentially more shocking because this could easily happen to any of us. And yes, it definitely embraces the gore aspect that does actually make the revenge part of this sub-genre fun. I was very surprised that there was no castrating scene as that’s usually something quite common.

M: I think it’s interesting how she never got back at the male sexuality, only getting back at them as people.

K: Because women don’t seek sexual revenge, just emotional/physical. The only reason she killed them is because they were going to kill her.

 

C: On that note, how did you respond to the graphic violence in the film?

M: I loved it, some moments (the glass in the foot!) I had to watch through fingers but the practical FX was amazing.

K: I loved the gore! LOVED the eye stab and the glass in the foot scene.

C: The glass in the foot was so unreal I loved hearing everyone’s reactions in the cinema. I think the sound design throughout was so good.

M: The glass in the foot scene made my entire screening laugh, awkwardly, they did that thing where people laugh when they’re uncomfortable.

K: The scene where Richard is on the dirt bike with a red light and intense synth score was so powerful. It reminded me of Under the Skin.

C: I just love gore in general and I am a huge fan of the New French Extremity films they are so good and I like that a gal wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty. Matilda Lutz said it was super fun to be in all that blood but so hard because she was just sticking to everything. One of my issues with the film was that literally every single character would have been dead by their first injury but the ‘this film is stylised’ comment we were given at the start of the film kind of meant you couldn’t criticise it.

K: Yeah completely, how did her back not break when she fell onto the tree?

M: She definitely would have been dead when she adheres metal to her body, the pain alone would have killed her.

K: But at the same time, the survival techniques were tried to be passed off as realistic and I think they did a convincing job. She takes the drugs so she doesn’t feel pain. Richard says at the start some guy took them and sawed his leg off and didn’t feel it so I presume that’s where she got the idea. “Women always have to put up a fight”. Iconic. My favourite line of the film.

 

C: So overall, would you call Revenge a feminist film?

K: Yes! Feminist as fuck. I don’t think there’s many girls that wouldn’t feel empowered after watching it.

M: I left feeling exhilarated and empowered. I don’t think I would have felt the same if it had been the same film by a male director though. So because it was women-made it only elevated my excitement and feelings afterwards.

 

This discussion was moderated and edited by Chloe Leeson. The participants were as follows: Millicent Thomas and Kelsie Dickinson.

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